People think they know what the Parker Spruce Hotel holds, but a night in a room there provides a clearer view.
Today, the Philly PD seems to hold the hotel in the same low regard. "I think the Parker is negatively related to the quality-of-life issues in the Washington Square West neighborhood," says 6th District Police Capt. Brian Korn. "We've talked to the manager, who swears the owner is concerned with the community and the people who live in the building. But I don't think the building is being put to its best use. And I believe that if it was, the neighborhood would be better off."
|Father and son: The Chitwoods, junior (above) and senior, made their fair share of arrests in and around the Parker Spruce.|
The walls look 10 years removed from the nearest coat of fresh paint. A panel of nine mirrors decorates the ceiling over the bed, which is made up with a thin sheet and blanket. The floor is thinly carpeted but spotless. A pair of towels, two wafer-like bars of soap and three silver tin ashtrays sit on top of the television, which gets 12 channels of basic cable and rests on top of a pressed wood dresser with four drawers--the last of which contains a balled up tissue with something that shall forever remain a mystery wrapped inside.
The room itself is about 10 by 12 feet. In one corner sits a small closet. In another is a washbasin and sink with a mirror and shelfless medicine cabinet above them.
I paid $49 for a double bed with a shared bathroom, which works on an honor system. I unlock the door on my side, step into the bathroom and lock my neighbor's door so they can't come in.
The shower is small and the toilet paper is thin like gossamer, but the room is clean. Upon exiting I unlock my neighbor's door, step back into my room and relock my side. All the locks involved are small latches. Any of the doors would give way with a good kick. Since my neighbor, whom I meet in the hallway, is a thin, middle-aged mother of two children under 10, I don't feel vulnerable.
Back in my room the window holds an air conditioning unit that makes it awkward to look outside. But when I do, I can see the corner of 13th and Spruce--the thick white lines in the middle of the street for pedestrians. As the night wears on, sounds from down there waft up here--10 stories high--as if amplified by the distance.
The Parker is owned by the Spruce Hotel Corporation, which bought the building in 1983. The corporation's president and secretary, as listed with the Department of State, is Neil Carver, a mostly retired criminal defense attorney who still keeps an office on the 1400 block of Walnut Street.
Carver describes himself as publicity-shy. In fact a search of the Inquirer and Daily News' Internet archives reveals only a couple of fleeting mentions of his work as an attorney--representing an X-ray technician accused of hiring a hit man to kill his wife, and in another case arguing on behalf of 40 patients who objected to the release of their medical records. "I never sought publicity," he says, reclining in an office chair. "I only returned your call because I figured we should put our side of the story out."
In the 23 years he's owned the building, Carver has never been interviewed about the Parker. "No one," he says, "has ever asked."
One would almost hope, given the Parker's colorful history, that Carver would appear dressed in a clown outfit with shot glasses taped over his eyes, a crack pipe tucked behind his ear, a paisley fright wig on his head and a stoned badger on his shoulder. But except for his height--he's well over 6 feet tall--his appearance would attract little notice. He has moppish black hair, an attorney's slow, reasoned way of expressing himself and a wry, gentle smile--something he's surely used to assure his clients over the years.
He's 68 years old, and in keeping with his history, he declines to have his picture taken for this story. But he has come bearing information, and to get things started, he reaches one long arm across his desk and hands over a small sheaf of papers torn from a yellow legal pad. "We do an informal census once a year," he says.
There are no names mentioned--just a list of jobs, many with an "M" following them. "That stands for 'multiple,'" says Carver, smiling. "I did that whenever we have more than one."
So then, according to Carver, the Parker Spruce has 197 rooms, approximately 130 of which are rented long-term--meaning for at least a week.
City social workers claim, and Carver agrees, that homeless people often use the Parker the first few days of the month--as long as the money from their checks holds out--as a way to take a breather from the shelter system. Others come there, he says, and some have done so for many years, to spend a few days away from family problems.
According to Carver's census, his tenants include a flight attendant; bakery employees; city, federal government and postal employees; hotel and restaurant workers; nurses; retired military and security guards among others, including an employee of The Philadelphia Inquirer. (PW will profile some of the Parker's tenants in a future story.) He estimates most of his long-term tenants earn between $25,000 and $50,000 a year.
In July the South Philly Review published a story about 55-year-old Elaine Markowicz, who writes gothic novels and lives on the second floor of the Parker with her husband. "It's a real mix of people," says Carver. "We have intellectuals there."
The prices aren't cheap. While a single night can run a single person between $37 and $53, most of the single-occupancy, weekly units rent for $150 a week. That's $600 a month, which can get you an efficiency in far plusher digs.